It often takes a large number of applications for highly qualified applicants to land a tenure track position. Let’s say that many universities signed on to a common application system for faculty applications. What would that look like, and how would it change the job market and the outcomes of searches?
To be clear, I’m not advocating for a common application for tenure-track jobs. This is just a thought experiment. This is just a blog, and I thought it’d be fun to think about this. And yeah, since this is my idea of fun, I guess I’ll concede I might not be the life of a party.
I’m not going to fret the details (Who pays for it? Are there secondary applications? Is there a decision day?) because this isn’t an actual proposal. In no particular order, here are some thoughts about how it might play out:
- Applicants will apply for more positions. Right now, I know a lot of people who limit the number of jobs they apply for because it’s just too much work to apply for them all. If all that it takes is to check a box for every job that you might be qualified for, why not apply more broadly? Even if you think it’s a bad fit, you never know, right?
- Departments might streamline selection because they get more applicants, and focus on a narrower set of criteria for the initial filtering of applications. (If you think the overemphasis on the number of publications is bad now, imagine how it might get worse.)
- Search committees will be a lot more worried about whether each applicant is genuinely interested in the position in the long term, because the ease of the application process might attract more applicants who see the job as a backup because it doesn’t fit their long-term career agenda. This may be a particular concern for low-prestige institutions and those that have been considered “geographically challenged.”
- Because applicants can’t customize their applications for each position, this presents a particular challenge: Do they try to be as general and vague as possible, trying to catch a breath of institutions, or do they design an application designed to target particular institutions based on research strengths and needs, institutional mission, student population, geography, and so on? What is the art of creating an application targeting particular campuses but still attracting other institutions?
- It’s extremely common for applicants to prepare one set of materials research-focused institutions and another for teaching-focused institutions such as SLACS and regional publics. (And it’s common for letter-writers to have two versions of the letter, and in my experience, the letters from prestigious R1s to regional publics are often laced with notes of condescention, by the way. Just a heads up, y’all, it doesn’t help your trainee.) How do applicants thread this needle? Is it possible that this will might result in more honest signaling from applicants? Because to say that you really love teaching undergraduates could the the death knell for some jobs, but also be required for some other jobs.
- Departments are likely to change their job descriptions, perhaps narrowing the academic focus of the position to limit the number of qualified applicants to something more reasonable (and also limit the number of applicants whose research and teaching doesn’t fit the slot the department wants to fill). But the drawback is that broader searches tend to create a more diverse pool of candidates, so this might prevent departments from bringing in the talent that their departments need. Other departments also might want to be able to skim from a very large pool of applications, and they might change the disciplinary focus to be ore broad.
- The gamespersonship over offers and counteroffers might get out of hand as there might be a small number of people who interview even more widely, and some universities will feel compelled to fight over them even though there is still an incredibly deep pool. This is already the current state of affairs in a lot of places, but I imagine this might get worse?
- Institutions that would opt out of the common application might be far more likely to get applicants who aren’t just applying on a lark, and those searches might have a higher probability of success. So I guess the system might reach an evolutionarily stable frequency of institutions that participate and don’t participate in the common application.
What do you think? What else might happen? Do you actually think this might be a good idea? Or would it be a train wreck?